Corona Virus v. Influenza: Who is Winning?

 

As the news media inundates us with 24/7 coverage of the Corona Virus Pandemic with up to the minute data on infection cases and new deaths, it’s important to maintain a sense of perspective. I first talked about this a few weeks ago (Corona Virus is Coming – Should We be Worried?) but now seems a good time to talk about this again.

While every day we hear the number of Corona Virus cases and deaths, we hear nothing of the influenza cases and deaths that are happening concurrently. This is not meant to make light of the Corona Virus situation, but rather to realize that people are dying every day from influenza while we’re completely focused on Covid-19 cases.

Below is a graph from the CDC that shows the current influenza epidemic in the U.S. at a glance:

Below is a graph from the CDC that shows the current Covid-19 virus pandemic in the U.S. at a glance:

All data is based on currently available graphics on the CDC website as of 4/3/20.

Here are the two graphs compared side-by-side:

                                     Total Cases               Total Deaths

Influenza                     39 – 55 Million             24 – 63 Thousand

COVID – 19                   239,279                           5,443

 

Influenza numbers are estimates because testing for influenza is inconsistent. Many more people have influenza based on their doctor’s diagnosis but testing for influenza is less common. Testing for COVID-19 virus is ramped up now due to the pandemic but only those with symptoms are being tested. Many more undoubtedly are positive for the virus but asymptomatic.

America has taken the influenza epidemic much too casually for years. Even though there is an influenza vaccine available, only about 40% of the whole population and 60% of the vulnerable population bothers to get vaccinated. No one has ever called for social distancing for influenza nor stressed the value of hand washing, avoiding contact with the face, compulsive washing of surfaces with disinfectant and other measures we now hear about every day since the COVID-19 pandemic.

More importantly, the government has never before called for a voluntary shut-down of the economy, yet thousands continue to die every year from influenza. Why are things so different now?

The politically correct answer is that COVID-19 is a new virus whose behavior is unknown. Yet that statement could have been made for the H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009 but no such strict governmental intervention happened then. That year the CDC reports 60.9 million cases (range 43.3 – 89.3 million), 274,304 hospitalizations (range 195,86 -402,719) and 12,469 deaths (range 8,868 – 18,306). Remarkably, these data show the 2020 influenza season is actually worse, though no one sounded the alarm until COVID-19 appeared.

The biggest thing that has changed in the last ten years is the loss of a reliable, unbiased media without a political agenda. This has increased distrust of the information we receive in the news. It can be difficult to discern the difference between legitimate concern and needless fear-mongering. It will be even more difficult to determine when the crisis is over and we can return to some semblance of normalcy.

Keep calm, America. We have weathered storms worse than this before and we will again. We have the greatest healthcare system in the world and the greatest private sector with the ingenuity to respond to this crisis. We can do this.

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” – Jesus (Matthew 6:27)

3 comments

  1. Thank you for a reasoned, calming voice in the midst of the storm.

    Comment by Marilyn Gibbs on April 4, 2020 at 12:12 pm

  2. I used your numbers from the table above. Please consider the following.

    Death Rate Comparison
    Influenza: 63,000/39,000,000= 0.162%
    (I took the highest death number and lowest estimated cases to get the highest rate)
    COVID-19: 5,443/239,279=2.275%
    *COVID-19 would still have a 14 times higher death rate.

    Based on these numbers if:
    39M people get COVID-19: 887,153 die
    55M get COVID-19: 1,251,113 die

    That is why COVID-19 is not like the flu and things are shut down. Although the flu is not something to disregard and you should get your flu shot.

    Comment by Stacey Churchill on April 5, 2020 at 11:22 am

  3. You make valid points and we certainly should be taking reasonable precautions. Thanks for your comments.

    Comment by Robert Roberts on April 5, 2020 at 11:54 am